June 17, 2015

You may have come to our website today with many questions such as, “What is stem cell research?” or “How are patients matched to cord blood for treatments?” We’d like to take some time to answer that question.

Human blood is made up of 6 specific protein markers called human leukocyte antigens (HLAs). These are used as identifiers, as each are unique to every individual. HLA markers of both the patient and the donor are compared to determine their compatibility before an umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant takes place. Unlike blood taken from other sources, a perfect HLA match is not required when it comes to cord blood. This means that cord blood stem cells have greater flexibility and thus more potential usage than other types of stem cells, giving expecting mothers another good reason to consider umbilical cord blood banking during their stages of pregnancy.

The immune system uses HLA markers to identify the body’s cells versus foreign bodies in the blood. If it does not recognize certain cells, the immune system kicks into high gear to eliminate that foreign material. This “attack” is called Graft vs. Host Disease, and it can be very serious. This is why it is important to match the HLA markers of the patient and donor before transplant, to ensure that the transplant will be a success. However, as we have stated, the match does not have to be perfect when using umbilical cord blood (as opposed to bone marrow cells, which require a perfect 6 of 6 match) collected after a mother’s pregnancy stages.

It is estimated that an individual will have a 1 in 217 chance of needing at least one of the many types of stem cell treatments, at some point in their lifetime. While public cord blood banking is an option, many parents and mothers in their stages of pregnancy want to give their children a greater chance at finding a donor who is an HLA match, in the event that they ever need a transplant. Full siblings have a 1 in 4 chance at being a perfect match, and parents have a 10% chance of being a perfect match. This is why storing the umbilical cord blood for each of your children after your pregnancy stages can be so effective, because it greatly increases the chances of finding a close enough match, should anyone in your immediate or extended family ever need a stem cell transplant.

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